Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Xibalba @ Manchester, Star and Garter (01/10/13)

Tonight sees the Star and Garter playing host to two of the best bands currently operating in the hardcore underground. While their sounds may differ, they are united by their unrelentingly heavy takes on the genre. But first, it's the turns of local supports, SWINELORDS (7) and BELOW (7). The former perform a tight set of d-beat rage to a practically empty room while the audience fills out a bit for death metal mob BELOW. An injured frontman limits their stage presence somewhat but a line-up featuring members of local hardcore heroes BROKEN TEETH and SURVIVAL ensures audience interest and they incite the first of many pits over the night. Not bad going for a band with only a demo to their name.

Next, it's blackened Italians HIEROPHANT's (9) turn. Keeping banter to a bare minimum, they allow the music to speak for itself playing highlights from both their self-titled debut and this year's coruscating "Great Mother : Holy Monster". When they signed to Bridge Nine, eyebrows were raised with them being the heaviest band by far on it's punk dominated roster but their output has never been anything less than devastating and, live, they're absolutely ferocious. Taking a base of proper metalcore (the kind doled out by the likes of HANG THE BASTARD and BROTHERHOOD OF THE LAKE) and splicing in elements of crust, sludge, black metal and oppressive atmospheres, they deliver their assault in different ways but never let up on all-encompassing weight.

Finally, XIBALBA (8) take to the stage. Their particular brand of hardcore is purpose made for provoking moshpits and they don't dissapoint. That they roped in Southern Lord wner and half of SUNN O))), Greg Anderson on several tracks on most recent album, "Hasta La Muerte" gives you an idea of just how heavy they are. Having said that, they don't fall into the trap of generic chugging or hardcore cliches. Nor do they feel the need to resort to the needless macho posturing that too many hardcore band rely on. Instead they deliver a set of devastating, beatdown heavy vitriol. Pretty much the entirety of their set speeds by with a few slower, ominous tangents which only serve to highlight how heavy they are at full pelt. Finishing on a furious rendition of fan favourite, "Cold", XIBALBA savage the crowd's ears in the best possible way.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

65daysofstatic @ Manchester, Sound Control (23/09/13)

Space jazz, frantic slabs of synth, hyperactive guitars, freewheeling drums and, um, "a selection of love songs about Paris". WIth that, we're introduced to the crazy world of THE PHYSICS HOUSE BAND (8), Brighton's answer to THE MARS VOLTA. Having first caught the attentionof the math-rock world through their inclusion on last year's "Sea Monsters 2" compilation, they signed to Blood & Biscuits for the release of their debut EP, "Horizons / Rapture" in February.With only one EP worth of material to choose from, it's a testament to thei versatility the amount of musical ground they cover across their set. High octane tracks like "Abraxical Solapse" get the criminally sparse crowd moving while they also touch upon more plaintive, chin stroking moments on the likes of "Hollow Mountain".

The venue fills out substantially for main supports, Australian post-rockers, SLEEPMAKESWAVES (7). For their first time in Manchester, they already seem to have a decent fanbase over here. Signed to Birds Robe, in their native Australia, they're label mates with 65DOS but their take on the post-rock genre is closer to RUSSIAN CIRCLES with subtle dance elements of tonights headliners. While some of the subtleties of the record may be lost in the live environment, they make up for this with their energetic delivery. Heavier riffing rubs shoulders with long form melodies and across their sprawling tracks they create beautiful soundscapes. They may not be peddling the most original sound but they're one of the best bands currently in the scene.

Despite the other bands' best efforts, for most of the assembled crowd, tonight is all about 65DAYSOFSTATIC (8). Their set is a perfect balance between rock guitar, dance beats and swirling ambience. Their latest album, "Wild Light", is only a matter of days old but their confidence in new material shines through making up a large proportion of tonight's setlist. Their confidence isn't misplaced either, new tracks are recieved just as warmly as classics like "Retreat! Retreat!" and "Radio Protector". Next year, their debut album and modern classic, "The Fall Of Math" will be a decade old but tracks aired from sound just as innovative and exciting today. 65DAYSOFSTATIC truly are a one off in the world of math/post-rock and, in the live environment, they consolidate this with a captivating set.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Esmerine- Dalmak

Coming back after a six year hiatus in 2011 with "La Lechuza", a tribute to a friend of the band, ESMERINE hit new heights. The subsequent touring took them to Turkey where the fertile local music scene provided further influences to add to their idiosyncratic mix of post-rock, folk and world music. Containing at their core two members of some of Constellation's best known acts, ex-GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR drummer Bruce Cawdron and SILVER MT. ZION's Rebecca Foon are this time joined by Jamie Thompson (UNICORNS, ISLANDS) and Brian Sanderson as well as a host of guest musicians. With instruments such as bendirs, darbukas and erbanes, it's fair to say that this isn't your standard rock album and it's this culture collision that allows for such a unique sound.

Opening gambit, "Learning To Crawl" is a minimal string led introduction before the intricately layered two-part "Lost River Blues". An extended melody is underpinned by slowly fluctuating and morphing rhythms. While the lead melodies are more introspective in tone, the marimba gives a warmth and upbeat feel while rhythmic mantras build to a fever pitch. Next, "Barn Board Fire" again utilizes the post-rock techniques of loud/quiet dynamics and intricate textures woven throughout to brilliant effect before the sparse "Hayale Dalmak" with an insistent pedal note holding together the looser sound. One of the album's centerpieces, "Translator's Clos" is another two-parter which again utilizes repeated rhythmic patterns and Eastern drones similar to OM but with lots of ornamentation. With a mixture of Western and Eastern instrumentation, the scope of sound is immense going from classical to something more recognizably 'rock' and from dense to minimal and back again constantly with a perfect balance between repetition and change.Following this, "White Pine" is another stripped back affair with cello and marimba before the album's conclusion, "Yavri Yavri", which is the closest to the "La Lechuza" sound ESMERINE venture while still firmly rooted in "Dalmak"'s Turkish influences. It's intricately layered but at the same time subtle with long sustained notes giving a meditative feel.

Overall, "Dalmak" is a beautiful album with much more depth than your average 'rock' album and unlike anything you've probably heard before. If you're looking to expand your musical horizons with something a little different then you'd be a fool not to give "Dalmak" a listen. (8/10)

"Dalmak" is out now through Constellation

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Various Artists- Sea Monsters 3

2013 sees the third incarnation of the Sea Monsters festival-come-showcase of the best new music Brighton has to offer. Covering a dizzying array of genres, while the "Sea Monsters 3" compilation features an abundance of electronic artists, there's something for everyone with punk, grunge, psyche, hip-hop and folk all jostling for space across the two hours running time. With 25 tracks from all corners of the Brighton music scene, this is a perfect introduction to the diversity and talent on offer.

An early highlight comes in the form of LUO's "Fears" which twins gentle piano with glitchy electronics and comes across like a stripped down THREE TRAPPED TIGERS. "Aquarius" by SOCCER96 is a more intelligent take on the EDM scene which is currently dominating the charts complete with keyboard sounds inspired by retro arcade games. The highlight of disc one, however, are NEGATIVE PEGASUS and THE PHYSICS HOUSE BAND with "Natural Jazz" and "Abraxical Solapse" respectively. Both bands have completely different yet equally brilliant variations on the psyche genre with "Natural Jazz" displaying a clear ONEIDA influence which sets expectations high for the follow up to last year's brilliant "Looming". On "Abraxical Solapse", the highlight from their debut EP "Horizons/ Rapture" THE PHYSICS HOUSE BAND mix math-rock and free jazz into their psyche melting pot to create a truly unique sound. The disc concludes with the angular post-hardcore of BROKER and, probably the best known act here, GNARWOLVES playing pop-punk the way it should be; loud, fast and fun.

Disc two starts with a hip-hop double bill from SUAVE DEBONAIR and RUM COMMITTEE, both acts perform with the requisite energy and swagger but the lounge jazz backing track on RUM COMMITTEE's "Bar After Bar" clinches the deal. The brilliantly titled "Hard Being Strange" by PLASTICINE provides a light-hearted take on indie while LOOSE LIPS' "Dr Evil" recalls a time when emo wasn't a dirty word which suggests a diet of early-TAKING BACK SUNDAY and pre-reunion BLINK 182. The stripped back 90's indie of "Little Rope" isn't the most original of sounds but TIGERCUB pull it off well enough and, with a grunge revival in full swing, they seem ideally placed to gain momentum in the coming months. Out of the bands showcased on disc two, though, it's ABI WADE who proves the highlight with her simple singer-songwriter material uplifted with subtle electronic touches and a cello. As is always the case with compilations like this, the quality varies from track to track but if you keep your finger hovering over the skip button on your stereo, there are hidden gems to be dug out whatever your musical taste. (6/10)

"Sea Monsters 3" is out now through One Inch Badge

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Palms- Palms

While you may not be familiar with the name PALMS, there's plenty of prestige in their line-up.Consisting of Aaron Harris, Jeff Caxide and Bryant Clifford Meyer all formerly of recently departed post-metal legends ISIS (among various other projects) joined by DEFTONES vocalist Chino Moreno, PALMS produce a different type of post-metal to what you might be accustomed to which allows them to more fully explore their ambient leanings while still creating epic soundscapes. With Moreno and ISIS being mutual admirers of each others output, this collaboration isn't as outlandish as it initially seems and Moreno's wide vocal range from gentle crooning to impassioned screams perfectly complements the loud/ quiet dynamics of the music.

"Future Warrior" introduces itself with a dreamy synthesizer before gentle melodies introduce themselves with the harsher side of Moreno's voice only fleetingly making itself known before "Patagonia" introduces a much more tense atmosphere with Moreno singing about "a hole in space where the demons wait" over guitar work which slowly builds up and morphs, constantly threatening to kick into something devastatingly heavy but maintaining restraint throughout. On "Mission Sunset", instrumentation drops in and out to create a sparse soundscape before the chorus showcases the whole band performing as a unit with a passion that's clear to hear. Overall the sound is very positive and Moreno's unique way of writing lyrics, almost like poetry rather than a song, provides another fascinating focal point other than the musicianship. "Shortwave Radio" is the least immediate track here with unexpected chord progressions and melodies, but all the better for it. It's the first real opportunity for Caxide, Harris and Clifford Meyer to flex their post-metal muscles while still maintaining the shoe-gaze sound of the rest of the album and, whether he's singing or screaming, Chino Moreno's vocals exude pure emotion. Following this, penultimate track, "Tropics" seems fairly straightforward but the band members' idiosyncrasies shine through more subtly before the slow, dreamy "Antarctic Handshake" concludes the album. More ambient and with more of an emphasis on synth than elsewhere on the album, it provides a suitably gentle finish. While the album covers similar musical ground to Moreno's hit-and-miss TEAM SLEEP project, it is much more consistent. Granted, it's not yet scraping the dizzying heights of "Oceanic" or "White Pony" (and whether it'll be lumbered with the dreaded 'side project' tag remains to be seen) but "Palms" is never-the-less an intriguing introduction to what could be a very exciting prospect. (7/10)

"Palms" is out now through Ipecac 

Monday, 24 June 2013

Deafheaven- Sunbather

In certain circles, it's fair to say that "Sunbather" is one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Following on from the bruised brilliance of their debut album, "Roads To Judah", and a split with BOSSE-DE-NAGE, for their sophomore album, DEAFHEAVEN continue to tread a path entirely of their own. Somewhat unfairly the band have been lumbered with the post-black metal tag leading to inaccurate comparisons to scene luminaries ALTAR OF PLAGUES and WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM but their sound is more akin to post-rock taken to it's extreme with beautiful melodies and harsh blackened noise. While "Sunbather" may be more positive in it's outlook than previous DEAFHEAVEN material, it is still a fully immersive emotional tour-de-force. 

Despite the guttural black metal growl and rampaging riffs that introduce "Dream House" it still manages to sound triumphant and strangely optimistic with the band showcasing their mastery of dynamics stripping the song back to a clean LANDSCAPES-esque melody before reintroducing the distorted guitars to a clarion call of "I want to dream". Following this, "Irresistible" is the first of several instrumentals interspersed across the album. A polyphony of melodies wave into one beautiful tapestry of gentle guitar and piano. Next, title track "Sunbather" reintroduces the cathartic vocals which carry a whole depth of emotion unheard of in 'conventional' black metal. Melody is used more subtly along with the devastating guitars, complementing the music but still allowing the heaviest parts to bludgeon the listener before taking a melodic tangent to keep you on edge throughout. Next is the second instrumental, "Please Remember" which dabbles in spoken word and acoustic guitar and pitches itself somewhere between CULT OF LUNA and GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR before the fifteen minute cinematic scope of "Vertigo". Beginning with a riff that wouldn't sound out of place on the 'Inception' soundtrack, "Vertigo" slowly builds up allowing each successive layer introduced ample time to develop. It's hard to pick out a highlight when each track is so perfect but the execution of "Vertigo" is amazing keeping up momentum throughout it's running time and providing the purest distillation of DEAFHEAVEN's post-rock/ black metal fusion. Following this is the third and final instrumental, "Windows", which finds the band back in GY!BE territory with minimal instrumentation creating an ominous tone accompanied by a sample of a street preacher. Final track, "The Pecan Tree" lays waste both aurally and emotionally with an impenetrable wall of noise ending with the harrowing confession, "I am my father's son/ I am no one/ I cannot love/ It's in my blood". It may be too early to call 'album of the year' but rarely does such a perfect album come along and the bar just got raised to dizzying heights. A future classic? An instant classic more like! (10/10)

"Sunbather" is out now through Deathwish Inc.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Kawabata Makoto's Mainliner- Revelation Space

KAWABATA MAKOTO's name is best known as the guitarist and group leader in tripped out Japanese psyche lords ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE but previous output by his other band; a self described 'psychedelic solid free attack group', is much fetished by fans of Makoto and following over a decade of inactivity, the surprise announcement of a new album is enough to make any psych fan quiver with excitement. While Makoto prefers to keep an air of mystery around such details as the album's recording (a refreshing attitude as any reviewer who finds their inbox constantly bombarded with trivial press releases can attest), what we do know is that, along with Makiti and drummer Koji Shimura is a newcomer on bass and vocal duties, Kawabe Taigen.

As far as statements of intent go, the eleven minute guitar freakout that introduces "Revelation Space" takes some beating. Straight from the jump, the title track sees the power trio firing on all cylinders with Shimura and Taigen providing a rhythmic backbone to the free squall of Makoto's feedback drenched guitar. Next, "Taitan" brings more ear-splitting levels of feedback with a mantric drum and bass groove building to a fever pitch while Taigen's ethereal vocals inject plenty of atmosphere.However, his vocals have an entirely different effect as he howls like a man possessed over the punked up wall of noise that is "D.D.D". Taking the riotous energy of GUITAR WOLF or THE STOOGES and pushing it to the precipice of insanity, it's delirious two minute duration rushes by before you know it. Penultimate track, "The Dispossessed" (which is exclusive to the CD release) takes the sheer power of the previous track and stretches it to a touch under ten minutes of breathless unhinged riffing and a repeated six note pattern which comes across like BLACK SABBATH on steroids. All that's left then is for the sprawling twenty minute epic "New Sun" to conclude matters. Basically, "New Sun" collates everything you've heard before into one final torrent of brilliantly obtuse noise. KAWABATA MAKOTO delivers a barrage of riffs which range from all out sonic warfare to patterns where repetition is pushed to the fore like ONEIDA at their heaviest. The rhythm section alternately keep control with tight grooves and deliver a series of unpredictable twists and turns with the tempo building to a breakneck speed. When Taigen's vocal arise, conveying a depth of mystery in just a few syllables,it seems both at odds with and the perfect fit for the frantically paced music with it's slow and deliberate unearthly quality. Fans of Makoto will delight in the fifty minutes of psychedelic escapism on offer here and, while newcomers may be initially put off by the in-your-face directness of the music, given half a chance "Revelation Space" pulls you into it's spiralling insanity for an enthralling journey into the heart of psyche. (9/10)

"Revelation Space" is out now through Riot Season

Arcane Roots- Blood & Chemistry

Since self-releasing their mini-album, "Left Fire", back in 2011 (with a physical re-release last year), ARCANE ROOTS' popularity has been gaining all the way with Radio One airplay- courtesy of none other than BIFFY CLYRO's Simon Neil, a record deal with PIAS and hype in pretty much every corner of the music press under their belts. But if such a huge surge of interest in the band in such a short space of time doesn't seem daunting to you then, with the release of their debut album "Blood & Chemistry", now it's time for ARCANE ROOTS to really put their money where their mouths are. With an even more dazzling array of genres mixed in than ever before; prop, pop, alt-rock, post-hardcore, math-rock and anything else they feel a track needs, ARCANE ROOTS manage to pull it all together into one cohesive product delivering an album that is innovative without being divisive and accessable without being overly commercialised.

Opening with the hardcore blast of "Energy Is Never Lost Just Redirected", it seems less like a statement of intent and more a full blown declaration of war proving that, while they've never disguised the pop vein to their music or their love of a good hook, ARCANE ROOTS are no conformists and do exactly what they want to. Next comes advance single, "Resolve" which has the aforementioned pop hooks in spades yet still willfully confounds expectations with a frantic variation on the main riff rearing it's head at the song's climax. They slow things right down for ballad "Belief" mixing math-rock noodles into what could be a slower cut from BIFFY CLYRO's "Puzzle" but the frenetic, angular riffing returns on "Sacred Shapes" which has shades of, "Left Fire" highlight, "In This Town Of Such Weather" with some 22 thrown in for good measure before a lush acoustic outro shows yet another side to their sound. "Hell & High Water" is a colossal anthem in waiting and "Triptych" illustrates the immense technical prowess of the band with an off-kilter blend of math-rock and post-hardcore and an insane mathcore bridge verging on THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN territory. Second single, "Slow" is anything but its namesake and isn't as easily accessable as "Resolve" but definitely warrants repeated listens and a reprise of the outro to "Sacred Shapes" asking "is love enough?" gives the album an overall cohesion rather than just being a collection of (admittedly brilliant) tracks. Following this, ARCANE ROOTS go in an entirely opposite direction with the heaviest track on the album, "Second Breath" but even at their most frenetic, there's still plenty of depth to the songwriting. The semi-acoustic "Held Like Knives" is the weakest track here but it's not bad by any stretch of the imagination while the best is saved 'til last with "You Keep Me Here" condensing the numerous sounds they explore across the album into one final outing. Their relative inexperience doesn't shine through at all and one wonders how long it will be before ARCANE ROOTS follow BIFFY CLYRO onto the arena circuit. (8/10)

"Blood & Chemistry" is out now through PIAS

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Dillinger Escape Plan- One Of Us Is The Killer

It's easy to write THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN off as one of the numerous tech-metal bands who only set out to beguile the average punter but to do so would be to completely miss the point. On their fifth album, they remain as divisive as ever but their sound has much more depth than just the breakneck riffing and time signatures which makes their music so unpredictable. "One Of Us Is The Killer" brings together everything that's made the quintet's previous output so electrifying; the edge-of-the-seat intensity of "Calculating Infinity", the pop flirtations of "Miss Machine", the electronics flirtations of "Ire Works" and the jazz flirtations of "Option Paralysis" while adding in subtle horns in the most unexpected places just when you think you've got them figured out. With a BLACK FLAG-esque stance on line-up, only guitarist and lead songwriter Ben Weinman remains of the band that brought out their debut self-titled EP back in 1997 but the quality of their music has not wavered one bit and while they'll always have their detractors unwilling to give thir post-Dimitri Minakakis output a chance, they're the only ones who are missing out on one of modern metal's greatest innovators.

Opener, "Prancer" is the most straight-forward track here but it still charges out of the gate with THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN's signature jarring riffs and hardcore bluster before "When I Lost My Bet" shows a seeming aversion to repeating sections running the gamut from jazz drumming to "Irony Is A Dead Scene" informed vocal delivery. The title track calms things right down and is perhaps the most surprising track here with subtle horn sections rubbing shoulders with more straight-up rock with Dillinger's trademark bag of spanners thrown into the mix. Next, "Hero Of The Soviet Union" sees the band channeled through DANNY ELFMAN while "Nothing's Funny" bears a passing resemblance to "Good Neighbor" (of "Option Paralysis") with more of an industrial vibe. The intro riff to "Understanding Decay" could have been written by AT THE DRIVE-IN but after this it veers off into more Mike Patton-era territory before "Paranoia Shields" provides another massive risk for the band with almost no screaming and a jazzy breakdownbut it pays off spectacularly as an album highlight. The cryptically titled "CH 375 268 277 ARS" is an instrumental apart from an indecipherable vocal sample and boldly mixes electronics with orchestral embelishments. The next two tracks, "Magic That I Held You Prisoner" and "Crossburner" sees the band back in more familiar mathcore territory before the album's conclusion, "The Threat Held By Nuclear Weapons" simultaneously channels both CAR BOMB and DEFTONES into one final 'what the fuck did I just hear?' moment. Needless to say, if you weren't already a fan of THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, "One Of Us Is The Killer" probably won't change your opinion on them. However if you were already in thrall to the undisputred kings of mathcore then you'll revel in the opportunity to hear new music from them. While the band haven't quite raised their very high game this time round, they still leave the numerous pretenders to their throne coughing in their dust. (8/10)

"One Of Us Is The Killer" is out now through Party Smasher Inc/ BMG

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Computers @ Manchester Deaf Institute (11/05/13)

It's amazing to think how much THE COMPUTERS' (8) sound has developed in the two years since the release of their debut album, "This Is The Computers". Gone is the sub-two minutes hardcore of old- a sound that saw them playing support to GAY FOR JOHNNY DEPP and PULLED APART BY HORSES and, in its place, a sophisticated mix of rock-n-roll, blue eyed soul and Elvis (Costello or Presley). Their sophomore album which they're touring in support of, "Love Triangles Hate Squares" sees THE COMPUTERS well and truly stepping up to the job of headliners.

But first, the crowd needs warmign up and this job falls upon the shoulders of Cornish shanty-punks, CROWNS (7). With a small section of die-hard fans in the audience, they are made to feel right at home despite the venue being at around half capacity. Their fun, shout-along drinking songs quickly win over any members of the crowd who aren't familiar with them and on cuts like "Foreskin" their THE CLASH meets DROPKICK MURPHYS shtick provides a perfect warm-up before the main event.

With matching maroon suits and a Vegas style lighted backdrop, THE COMPUTERS certainly look the part, somewhat at odds with the tiny Deaf Institute. Vocalist and all around showman, Alex Kershaw quickly installs himself on top of the bar and spends the majority of the set there, walking up and down , crooning with inbetween song banter consisting of televangelical preaching of how THE COMPUTERS are here to save your soul. He seems dead set on getting everybody dancing, pulling out random members of the audience and coupling them up while chastising anyone caught not participating fully. While Kershaw is undoubtedly the center of attention with his natural charisma and wit, the rest of the band also seem to be having a great time liberally sprinkling tracks with organ solos and skits of "Surfin' Bird" and "When A Man Loves A Woman". Older material is scarce tonight with only "Rhythm Revue" and "Music Is Dead" from "This Is The Computers" getting an airing and nothing from "You Can't Hide From The Computers" is played but they manage to successfully integrate the songs into their new sound with clean vocals in place of screaming. Soon, it seems, their set is going to consist solely of material from their second album onwards. On the evidence of tonight though, this won't be a problem, despite the themes of love, lust and loss, the energy and fun is palpable and, if there's any justice, THE COMPUTERS will be playing venues double this size next time they come to Manchester.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Iron Tongue- The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown

IRON TONGUE play rock music. Pure unadultered rock with a Southen groove, a blues stomp and zero shits given before space-core or post-everything or whatever the new flavour of the month sub-genre is enters the equation.That's not to say "The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown" is all balls out, cliched riffing- they can be gentler when the need arises, it's just to say there are no pretentions whatsoever about IRON TONGUE. The seven-piece feature in their line-up, frontman Chris 'CT' Terry formerly of sludge miscreants RWAKE and, while the music itself is a different kettle of fish, they share the same love of the riff and both know that simple is sometimes best. Having shared the stage with the likes of SCOTT KELLY, HIGH ON FIRE, CROWBAR and more and with a split 7" with THE DIRTY STREETS already under their belts, it is with plenty of prestige already that IRON TONGUE drop their Billy Anderson (MELVINS, SLEEP, NEUROSIS, etc.) produced debut.

The album opens with the slow strummed chords of demi-ballas, "Ever After" which immediately shows what attracted Neurot to the band with a similar tone to the solo projects of SCOTT KELLY, STEVE VON TILL or NATE HALL- albeit with a full band and a ripping solo introducing a heavier side to the song. The band (completed by Jason Tedford, Andy Warr, Mark Chiaro, Stan James, Stephanie Smittle, JR Top and Tiffany Phillips) sound like a morec competent bar-rock band in a goos way with their simple, effective song structures and Kentucky fried lead lines. The main riff in "Witchery" sounds strangely like T.REX's "Children Of The Revolution" (minus the theatrics) channeled through a bar brawl with its filthy stoner vibe while "Skeleton" comes across almost like PLANES MISTAKEN FOR STARS somehow still seeming sparse despite the seven-piece line-up before another tasteful solo brings it back into blues-rock territory. The rest of the album continues in a similar way, like an amp-on-amp between a more straightforward NEUROSIS and ZZ TOP in an old Western saloon, IRON TONGUE aren't reinventing the wheel here and there's no attempt to convince you otherwise but, in their genre, they don't need to. If you like your rock low down and dirty with colossal grooves, then look no further than "The Dogs Have Barked The Birds Have Flown" (8/10)

"The Dogs Have Barked The Birds Have Flown" is out now though Neurot

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Melvins- Everybody Loves Sausages

With a career spanning over three decades and having been cited as an influence by everyone from NIRVANA to ISIS, it's not to far a stretch to call MELVINS the biggest cult band around and they're undoubtedly the biggest thing to come out of the niche doom hybrid of sludge. Combining sludge with grunge, straight-up rock and a healthy dose of experimentation, they are truly in aleague of their own and, at this stage in their career, they could probably release an album of yodelling and still recieve mass acclaim. For the record though, I'm glad they haven't. What they instead deliver is thirteen cover versions providing a fascinating insight in to the band's influences ranging from novelty pop and stadium rock to obscure punk and avante garde. This being a MELVINS album, it is no mere stopgap but a cleverly thought out album with a brace of collaborations and plenty of variety.

They kick off proceedings with the heaviest track on the album, a fairly straight-forward run through of VENOM's "Warhead" with guest vocalist, Scott Kelly's (NEUROSIS) instantly recognisable rasp lending the track even more weight. This is then followed by the sheer contrast of QUEEN's "Best Friend" and so it continues with polar opposites of sound rubbing shoulders with gleeful abandon. Next, they turn the simple chant of RAM JAM's "Black Betty" into a mantra bearing more than a slight resemblance to the opening track on '10's "The Bride Screamed Murder", "The Water Glass". After this comes an early highlight in the form of cult punks, THE SCIENTIST's "Set It On Fire" with Mark Arm lending a hand. As anyone who's heard this year's "Vanishing Point" can attest, MUDHONEY have got their youthful exuberance back and it's clear that Arm (and MELVINS) are having a blast turning "Set It On Fire" into a "Superfuzz Bigmuff" era sludge/ grunge dirge. Another highlight of a completely different kind immediately follows in the form of an experimental take on DAVID BOWIE's "Station To Station". In the liner notes to "Attitude", MELVINS self deprecatingly comment that "THE KINKS recorded this around the time they were raking in royalties from VAN HALEN's cover of "You Really Got Me". Unfortuantely, they won't be making anywhere near as much from this" proving the ethos behind this album of the band as music fans before anything else. While this is billed as a regular MELVINS album, the next track, "Female Trouble" (the theme to the eponymous John Waters film) is the first of three MELVINS LITE tracks with the other two being "Timothy Leary Lives" and "Romance" by POP-O-PIES and TALES OF TERROR respectively with Trevor Dunn's upright bass playing creating the soundtrack to the world's coolest lounge. Elsewhere, ex-DEAD KENNEDYS legend, Jello Biafra sounds positively unhinged on a creepy rendition of ROXY MUSIC's "In Every Dream Home  A Heartache" with the album concluding on a solo jam of "Heathen Earth" by THROBBING GRISTLE courtesy of Buzz Osbourne.

Overall, it's an album of highs and lows but when it's good it matches the quality of their back catalogue and there's enough great covers to earn it a place in any MELVINS fan's music library. (6/10)

"Everybody Loves Sausages" is out now through Ipecac

Friday, 3 May 2013

Mudhoney- Vanishing Point

Discounting the meteoric rise of NIRVANA when they put out "Nevermind" in 1991 (on Geffen), arguably no other band has done as much for the grunge scene or for Sub Pop as MUDHONEY have. Signing to them for the release of their classic debut EP, "Superfuzz Bigmuff", it's an alliance that Mark Arm and co. have kept to this very day, save for a mid period dalliance with Reprise, through the ups and downs of their career. On "Vanishing Point" though, the band are here to prove that theyr'e back on the top of their game.

Opening with the admittedly weak "Slipping Away" seems like a bit of a mis-step but thing pick up with an early highlight in the form of "I Like It Small". A tongue-in-cheek assault on excess, you can almost see the smirks on the band's faces as Mark Arm professes "when I orgy, I cap it at twelve/ any more than that and I get overwhelmed". "What To Do With The Neutral" is similar in tone to "Slipping Away" but executed much more competently before the punk rock pace of "Chardonnay"- an ode to "the grape that launched a thousand strippers". In just the opening four tracks, MUDHONEY manage to successfully navigate the different facets of their sound with the youthful rage of their earlier material rubbing shoulders with slower, more mature numbers. As always, the band don't take themselves to seriously with plenty of dry quips scattered across their lyrics and, while they're undoubtedly not breaking any new ground, it's all good fun.

On "Vanishing Point", MUDHONEY reinstate their place as the kings of grunge still standing head and shoulders above new acts like METZ whom the band's influence upon is clear. They don't quite recapture the vitality of "Touch Me I'm Sick" or "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More" form their classic "Superfuzz Bigmuff" but they do prove that they've earned the respect newcomers to the scene pay to them and they haven't pissed all over their legacy yet. For anyone looking for a nostalgia trip, "Vanishing Point" provides it in spades while still retaining a relevance that will hopefully attract a new generation of fans. They've still got a few more decades of grunge goodness in them! (6/10)

"Vanishing Point" is out now through Sub Pop

Black Flag offer free download of new track, "Down In The Dirt"

Following on from their surprise reformation, hardcore legends BLACK FLAG have released the first fruits of recording sessions for their upcoming album. And what's better is they're offering it as a free download here!

Hear the song below then download it then get stoked for their 2013 tour.

The band, who are currently performing under their 1979 line-up with Ron Reyes on vocals, also released the following staement about Keith Morris' (OFF!, CIRCLE JERKS etc.) new cover band FLAG:
"not to be confused with the ‘fake’ FLAG band currently covering the songs of BLACK FLAG in an embarrassingly weak “mailing it in” fashion. We urge you to check out the real BLACK FLAG when they hit your area."

BLACK FLAG play Hevy festival in August.

Opium Warlords- We Meditate Under The Pussy In The Sky

As a member of REVEREND BIZARRE, Albert Witchfinder (that may not be his real name) became somewhat a modern doom legend regarded with the same reverence as ELECTRIC WIZARD (who incidentally released a split with them containing Bizarre's final material) and with a loyal cult following. Since the band called it quits in 2007, alongside his new band, THE PURITAN, Witchfinder's main priority is now OPIUM WARLORDS. For their sophomore album "We Meditate Under The Pussy In The Sky", WItchfinder strikes out alone, entasking himself with all instrumentation and his own personal interpretation of what doom is.

Kicking off with the jarring, angular feedback of the cryptically titled "Sxi-Meru", Albert WItchfinder seems to immediately set out to prove that this is no mere REVEREND BIZARRE MK2. There's barely a trace of doom in the minimal ambience on offer and "Sxi-Meru" is kept surprisingly brief for the drone genre. Next, "Slippy" introduces menacing horror b-movie organ and military drumming seeming to herald the presence of a darker force at work before going off at a wild tangent with demonic vocals and an equally sinister, frantic fairground riff punctuated by disarming sections of decidedly calmer drone and pretty, melodic guitar playing that EARTH would be proud of. Throughout "Slippy", the listener is kept on edge with frequent twists and turns proving that, while he mayno longer be a reverend, Witchfinder is as bizarre as ever. While the rest of the album is sans-lyrics, the contrast only serves to highlight the diversity on display across the five tracks that comprise "We Meditate Under The Pussy In The Sky"- part MAYHEM, part MR BUNGLE, part SUNN O))), all mental!  Next, "Lament For The Builders Of Khara Khoto" is somewhat more subdued but no less menacing with the first hint of heavier-than-thou doom riffing taking the fore. Guttural screams and chanting ornament the oppressive feedback while a subtle melody weaved through creates a ray of light in the darkness. "This Wind Is A Gift From A Distant Friend" provides no such respite with a slow guitar and rums drone-doom assault in the vein of BURNING WITCH before morphing into something more akin to post-metal. Final track, "Satan Knew My Secret Heart" pulls of a similar trick but, rather than having a volta in the piece, here post-metal and doom are merged seamlessly throughout giving the track a mournful, almost repentant vibe. By the time "Satan Knew My Secret Heart" abruptly cuts out, you feel spent form the cathartic, beguiling and brilliant journey that is "We Meditate Under The Pussy In The Sky". Albert Witchfinder has had the courage to step out on his own and it's a risk that has paid off manifold. (8/10)

"We Meditate Under The Pussy In The Sky" is out now through Svart

Merzbow Pandi Gustaffson- Cuts

MERZBOW (Masami Akita to a mum) is a man of simple tastes. Having put his name to hundreds of slabs of white noise and collaborations with the likes of SUNN O))) and BORIS, nothing seems to make him happier thanpushing the boundaries of music with with a migraine inducing approach to avante-garde. His music doesn't allow indecision, you'll either love it or hate it and one gets the feeling that he wouldn't have it any other way. This time around, he has company with able assistance from Mats Gustaffson and Balázs Pandi, neither of who are strangers to collaborations with Pandi having lent his considerable drumming talent to jazzcore maniacs, ZU as well as VENETIAN SNARES, BONG-RA and many more while Gustaffson is bestknown as the saxophonist in THE THING amongst others. At this stage in each of their careers , you'll know what to expect from them but this collaborative effort adds a different dynamic to them making it a worthwhile addition to any fan's collection.

It's hard to think of any other artists that sound remotely like MERZBOW but as a vague reference point imagine, if you will, an insane concoction of SHINING's blackjazz, JOHN ZORN's avante garde grind outfit NAKED CITY, the sci-fi soundtracks of the BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP and Akita's countrymen,BOREDOMS. Mats Gustaffson's saxophone shrieks discordantly over MERZBOW's inpenetrable walls of noise while Balázs Pandi keeps a vague semblance of control with his remarkably skilled free jazz drumming which erratically jolts along while still maintaining the restraint which the other two thirds of the trio lack. Not that this is a negative, while Akita and Gustaffson seem to be in all out war with each other, there are still plenty of subtleties in the ebb and flow of the five tracks here to warrant repeated listens. Over its 72 minute running time, "Cuts" manages to be both subtle and divisive as alway on this mtach mad in avante-garde/ noise heaven. If there's one (minor) gripe with "Cuts" it's that the constant noise doesn't always allow Mats Gustaffson's saxophone enough space to truly shine but, otherwise, the album is every bit as mental as you would expect and all the better for it. This is a brilliant addition to any MERZBOW fan's collection to be filed next to "Maldoror" and "Pulse Demon as a definite high point. If you don't come out with a thumping headache, you're not listening loud enough! (7/10)

"Cuts" is out now through RareNoise

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Ensemble Pearl- Ensemble Pearl

In an age where one only needs to log into Twitter to find out what their favourite band had for dinner and a celebrity wearing a dress they've worn before constitutes news, it's nice to see that some people still like to keep a little mystique. A supergroup of sorts, though one would presume they'd reject such a tag, ENSEMBLE PEARL is a quartet consisting of Stephen O'Malley (SUNN O))), KTL, BURNING WITCH etc.), Atsuo and Michio Kurihara (both of BORIS) and William Herzog joined, this time around, by Eyvind Kang and Timba Harris. Information like this, though, is secondary to the music, a breathtaking mixture of ambient and drone with influences ranging from "Hex"-era EARTH to early TANGERINE DREAM via LINK WRAY. Originally composed for the play "This Is How You Will Dissapear", the six tracks that comprise "Ensemble Pearl" have grown into something much grander than just a soundtrack on record.

Foreboding mantras slowly build up with minimal atmospheres in place of the oppressive feedback of SUNN O))). Also amongst the droning riffs, one can discern a world music influence similar to the transcendental doom of latter-day OM and lush ambient passages. "Ghost Parade" opens proceedings with a three chord drone subtly metamorphosing over time while a myriad of other effects float across the sound spectrum. Following this, "Painting On A Corpse" twins a CULT OF LUNA-esque mantra with more swirling effects underpinned by a constant, insistent drum pattern before climaxing with searing noise and sonic experimentation that MERZBOW would be proud of. All the while though, that same guitar and drum drone continues, occasionally speeding up, seemingly getting closer and closer before fading away. Sweet respite. Next comes the gentle rise and fall of "Wray" with beautiful evocative keys and strings unaccompanied by guitar or percussion before "Island Epiphany" reintroduces the drones, noise and drumming. A tangible sense of dread cuts through the beauty of the strings and keys but even at its densest, everything feels like it has its own space. Rather than rushing to the finishing line, parts are given full opportunity to develop to their natural conclusions, running the gamut from beauty to horror and from thrill to melancholy to fear. "Giant" takes ENSEMBLE PEARL's knack for creating an emotional rollercoaster over the course of one track even further with one sustained note forming the centrepiece for the most part while the constantly shifting backdrop radically alters the overall mood of the piece. Proceedings conclude with the 20 minutes of "Sexy Angle" complete with dub vibes and angular, off-kilter violin.

Put simply, "Ensemble Pearl" is an earth-shattering collaboration between geniuses unrivalled in the field of drone and their debut album as ENSEMBLE PEARL is another stunning high point in their respective careers. (9/10)

"Ensemble Pearl" is out now through Drag City

Friday, 19 April 2013

Ghostface Killah- Twelve Reasons To Die

Anyone who's familiar with GHOSTFACE KILLAH's discography, be it solo, collaborations or as part of WU-TANG CLAN, will know that he's not a man to compromise his artistic vision. Unfortunately, though, in recent years his output's been a little hit and miss. At his best, he's just as powerful as he was when WU-TANG CLAN first took the hip-hop world by storm with "Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" but sometimes he falls victim to the unoriginal cliches passed of by lesser rappers. However, last year's  WU BLOCK collaboration saw him reinvigorated with his acidic flow back to its best. It's with the momentum from that release that he's delivered his most adventurous album yet.

The musical accompaniment to an eponymous graphic novel, "Twelve Reasons To Die" is a concept album which sees GHOSTFACE KILLAH facing off against 12 rival drug lords in a stylish mixture of neo-noir and the classic Marvel and DC comics that Ghostface so obviously loves. To fit in with the narrative weaved through "Twelve Reasons To Die", the entire album is produced by ADRIAN YOUNGE creating a more coherent listening experience for the album as an entire product rather than just a collection of tracks. In a nutshell, the storyline finds GHOSTFACE KILLAH (under his TONY STARKS alter ego) as an infamous drugs baron in 1960s Italy. After his assassination by a rival, he is melted down into a record which, when played, unleashes GHOSTFACE KILLAH to reap revenge on the country's twelve most dangerous drug lords. Despite the rather involved story, "Twelve Reasons To Die" is surprisingly good fun which does well to wrap things up quickly, never overstaying its welcome.

While the narrative is set in the 60s, the music is very much influenced by the 70s. From the warning to "Beware of the stare of the Ghostface Killah" ("Beware The Stare") onwards, we're deeply routed in symphonic soul and bombastic production accompanying Ghostface's distinctive flow which, while the storyline's constraints don't allow his usual train of thought style, is on top form. As always, there are plenty of guest appearances from friends and fellow Wu-Tang alumni with KILLA SIN and MASTA KILLA lending a hand on "Revenge Is Sweet" and "Murder Spree", CAPPADONNA on "The Center Of Attraction" and U-GOD on "Blood On The Cobblestones" and "Murder Spree". MASTA KILLA appears again on "I Declare War" and INSPECTAH DECK helps out on "Blood On The Cobblestones", "An Unexpected Call (The Set Up)" and "Murder Spree" but it's THE DELFONICS' William Hart who steals the show with his sung vocals providing the perfect contrast to GHOSTFACE KILLAH's rapping on album highlight, "Enemies All Around Me". Overall, "Twelve Reasons To Die" is an innovative take on the hip-hop genre which sounds almost as vital as the first time you heard "Protect Ya Neck". GHOSTFACE KILLAH is back to his best. (8/10)

"Twelve Reasons To Die" is out now through Soul Temple Music

Black Sabbath unleash new single- "God Is Dead?"

Doom legends, BLACK SABBATH yesterday released this nine minute monolith, the first single to be taken from their upcoming album, "13". It's also available as a free download for itunes preorders of the album here: http://smarturl.it/BlackSabbath13DlxiT
"13" is released June 10th. BLACK SABBATH tour Europe in November/ December:
Nov 20: Hartwall Arena, Helsinki, Finland
Nov 22: Friends Arena, Stockholm, Sweden
Nov 24: Telenor Arena, Oslo, Norway
Nov 26: Forum, Denmark, Copenhagen
Nov 28: Ziggo Dome, Holland, Amsterdam
Nov 30: Westfalenhalle, Dortmund, Germany
Dec 2: Bercy, Paris, France
Dec 5: Fiera Arena, Milan, Italy
Dec 7: 02 Arena, Prague, Czech Republic
Dec 10: 02 Arena, London, UK
Dec 12: Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Ireland
Dec 14: Arena, Sheffield, UK
Dec 16: Hydro, Glasgow, UK
Dec 18: Arena, Manchester, UK
Dec 20: LG Arena, Birmingham, UK
Dec 22: LG Arena, Birmingham, UK

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Physics House Band- Horizons/ Rapture

THE PHYSICS HOUSE BAND first gained attention through their inclusion on One Inch Badge's "Sea Monsters 2" compilation last year bringing together the best music in the Brighton scene with the likes of NEGATIVE PEGASUS and TALL SHIPS also featuring. However, where TALL SHIPS play math-rock, THE PHYSICS HOUSE BAND bend the genre to its limits creating something completely different, physics-rock if you like. Since then, they've inked a contract with Blood and Biscuits, home to the aforementioned TALL SHIPS as well as THREE TRAPPED TIGERSGALLOPS and a whole host of other math-rock champions, with "Horizons/ Rapture" being the first fruit of their record deal.

In the nicest possible way, "Horizons/ Rapture" is a veritable headfuck; KING CRIMSON prog freakouts meer frenetic free jazz drumming and ROLO TOMASSI style synths keeping you constantly wondering what direction it's going to veer off into next. Then, just as you think you've got it figured out, they throw the delicate piano of "The Spectral Beyond" at you. Across the six tracks that make up THE PHYSICS HOUSE BAND's debut EP, there are more twists and turns than many bands manage across an entire career and each subsequent listen reveals further hidden depths . it's rare for such a fledgling band to carve out their own distinct niche and, if they're already producing music of this calibre, their future could be very bright indeed! (9/10)

"Horisons/ Rapture" is out now through Blood And Biscuits

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Computers- Love Triangles Hate Squares

Making their name through an explosive mix of hardcore and rock n' roll which has seen the band supporting the likes of GAY FOR JOHNNY DEPP and PULLED APART BY HORSES, "Love Triangles Hate Squares" represents one hell of a curve-ball in the career progression of THE COMPUTERS. Almost completely leaving their punk n' roll roots behind, the band's sophomore album sees them peddling a sound more indebted to ELVIS COSTELLO and soul music than it is to BLACK FLAG. For the most part, clean vocals take the fore with the man formerly known as Screamin' Al Kershaw crooning "I'm bored of screaming like I've got no soul" ("Love Triangles Hate Squares") which provides the perfect insight into their fairly drastic shift in sounds. The more aggressive tracks here are imbued with the same punk rock sensibility as THE BRONX or THE JIM JONES REVUE while, for the most part, this album could easily rival anything in the charts in terms of pop hooks and catchiness.

Opening track, "Bring Me the Head Of A Hipster" (aside from being brilliantly named) provides the perfect balance between the shout-along simplicity of old and the more mature sound they now embrace before title track "Love Triangles Hate Squares" injects a genuinely anthemic quality into proceedings. After this, "Mr Saturday Night" and "Nothing To Say" continue in a similar vein followed by the utterly sacharine but undeniably catchy "C.R.U.E.L". Somewhat misleadingly, the next track, "Disco Sucks" was released as the advanced single for the album but is completely different in tone. Older fans will welcome this brief return to their old THE GHOST OF A THOUSAND-esque sound but it may bemuse anyone less familiar with their back-catalogue. However, rather than interrupting the album's flow as it would in less able hands, it provides a look at a different side of THE COMPUTERS for any newcomers. After this, it's back to softer material for the remainder of the album with the themes of love (or lack there-of) and lust running strongly through the lyrics.

Where THE COMPUTERS' previous output seemed purpose made for basement hardcore gigs, "Love Triangles Hate Squares" is a real step up in terms of a wider appeal and in a fairer world it would see the band stepping up from basements to arenas. They've successfully managed to make rock n' roll relevant in the 21st Century and, while it's by no means perfect- to be so would only take character from it, it's anybody's guess what shape they twist punk, soul or rock n' roll into next time around. Rather than being some cynical move to sell more records, you can tell THE COMPUTERS are still playing with absolute conviction. This is the sound of a band growing up. (7/10)

"Love Triangles Hate Squares" is out April 29th through One Little Indian

At The Drive-In- Acrobatic Tenement/ Relationship Of Command (Reissues)

Following on from a brief (unsuccessful) reunion last year as well as reissues of "Vaya" and "In/ Casino/ Out" comes the re-release of two more seminal albums from post-hardcore pioneers, AT THE DRIVE-IN. This time around of their hard to find debut, "Acrobatic Tenement", and their swansong, "Relationship Of Command". For those of you who are unfamiliar with the band, they were one of the most forward thinking post-hardcore bands of the 90s and are talked about with the same reverence as the likes of HOT SNAKES, FUGAZI and REFUSED. You will probably also be familiar with the core of the band, Omar Rodríguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who went on to form prog trailblazers THE MARS VOLTA as well as a whole host of other projects. All this history, though, would count for nothing if the music was no good but luckily both "Acrobatic Tenement" and "Relationship Of Command" are molten slabs of post-hardcore genius.

While "Acrobatic Tenement" lacks the refinement and production values of "Relationship Of Command", the album still has plenty of evidence of their wildly inventive approach to songwriting. "Acrobatic Tenement" has always been underappreciated in preference of their later releases (of the 11 tracks here only "Initiation" was featured on their "This Staion Is Non-Operational" career retrospective) but it's still an essential musical history lesson. Along with their distinctive mix of '90s hardcore  and off-kilter riffing, on their debut album they also take a punt at pop-punk providing a sheer contrast to the frenetic pace of their heavier tracks. Overall, it isn't the highlight of their career but it more than hints at the great things to come and for any fan it's still an essential purchase. (8/10)

Widely regarded as their masterpiece, "Relationship Of Command" was At The Drive-In's final album and has provided an inspiration for countless post-hardcore bands over the 12 years since its original release. Featuring guest vocals from IGGY POP ("Rolodex Propoganda") and an arsenal of surefire punk rock hits with all the ingenuity and charm you'll have since come to expect from Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-Lopez, the album saw ATD-I continuing their transition to genuine underground icons poised at the brink of stardom. It's since been well documented in the reasoning behind their split how ATD-I lost interest in the post-hardcore scene but it bears pointing out that the band never allowed themselves to be restricted by genre anyway. With production from the godfather of nu-metal, Ross Robinson, "Relationships Of Command" flew in the face of expectations while still retaining the band's unique sound. Over a decade later, it still sounds as vital as it ever did. (9/10)

These reissue provide two classic snapshots of genre shaping post-hardcore albums and, while (with the exception of "Catacombs" on "Relationship Of Command") they don't come with any bonus material, are essential additions to any record collection that hasn't already found them a home.

"Acrobatic Tenement" and "Relationship Of Command" are both out now through Transgressive